Donations: When Your Art Room Becomes a Dumping Ground

Every year I can expect a box to appear in my room. The secretary brings it down, and says “I have a gift for you!”

Every year I can expect a box of junk from an “Mysterious Donor”  – I have no clue who always brings me this box, but it has the strangest things inside. For example, you might find one paper doily, 3 pipe-cleaners, a piece of construction paper, an old box that note cards were kept in, etc. I teach art, so I must be able to take all trash and make it into treasure, right? Nope. Unless you have 100 paper doilies I can’t use them with my 1st graders. hehehe. I’ll be nice. Occasionally there were some treasures, like a few unopened glue sticks, but my room is so small with no storage, I just simply couldn’t afford having anything extra around.

On the flip side, I had a parent who worked for a paper company and gave me rolls and boxes of good, clean white card stock and colored paper. Now that is a donation I will gladly accept!

It’s hard to say “no” – Schools are constantly complain they are underfunded, so it’s no surprise community members are eager to help out.  However, it’s really not practical to allow your room to become cluttered because you take everything that is given to you (just look udner my sink, talk about a dumping ground of things that don’t get used very often- Not cool!)


To combat this issue, I would suggest making an art room wish-list and put it in your school’s newsletter, post it on the door, and put it on your blog. This way, when you get unwanted donations you can simly say “I am sorry but these tiems are not something we are currently in need of in our art room, but thank you. You can refer to this list if you want to donate in the future” or,  you can just not feel guilty about throwing it away, or passing it along after you have kindly accepted the donation. Many times parents are kind enough to call and ask first.

(Kind of like the guys on American Pickers, they have a list they give people when they drive up and say “We are looking to buy THESE items” – just to make it clear and give the people some focus. Your colleagues and parents just need some direction and focus when it comes to helping out the art room.

Here are some popular “Art Room Wishlist Ideas” I’ve had great success with:

  • Bubble Wrap and Tissue Paper (For wrapping clay pieces with)
  • Paper bags (for taking clay home in)
  • Paper plates (to dispense paint)
  • Old magazines or catalogs (for collage, drawing ideas, dispensing paint, etc)
  • Pencils (Companies change their logo and will have tons on hand they can’t give out anymore)
  • Unused paper
  • Glue/ Glue sticks
  • Magic Erasers (for those horrible sharpie infractions on the table)

I also have passed a box of supplies down to a local preschool and they were SO happy to get some of the items I had in surplus. (I asked first, no worries!) As you work toward becoming a “Clutter Free Teacher” sometimes you must be strategic about accepting donations for your art room.

What is the best item and/or strangest item that has been donated to you?

Tell us some other good ideas you could add to your art room wish list…..

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • This year, I got 30 bars of soap. Thank you?

    • Cathy

      hahahaha….that is hilarious….but actually not bad, considering kids wash their hands a lot in art…..but 30 bars of soap may take awhile to go through.

      Or better yet…….maybe they are sending a “message” to the art teacher??? Just kidding! :)

      • Soap sculptures, anyone! In the elementary art room this is a safety hazard waiting to happen. Oh it makes me chuckle just thinking about the little kiddos whittling away at their soaps.

        • Cathy

          hahaha…I just “flipped back” to this website after being on the Community part of AOE and laughed out loud at your comment Jessica…..Oh my goodness!!! I can just see the mess…..and better yet….a youngster all of a sudden wiping their eyes for some reason only to be left with tears because their eyes sting from soap residue on their little fingers. Or boys challenging each other to eat one of the soap fragments! Ok, ok…enough fun! I must get back to work and get my day going! ;)

          • sarah

            I just recieved the most amazing adult sized glitter coated Turkey costume! I snuck it into the music teacher’s store room. I collect just about everytrhing for projects and/or visuals. I have a bone box with cow,deer,cat,mouse skulls and more. I had a student bring me a cup of BBQ rib bones from his dinner to add to my collection. Attached was a note from his mom saying she thought it was really wierd but her son would not come to school without them. I love my job and this website. Just found it tonight and look forward to the online conference. Thanks evryone!

        • hahaha. I know! My mind went there too.  

        • Mcbartos

          I do soap sculptures with my fourth grade every year. I have little tools thatb are usually used for cleaning up the bottoms of wheel thrown pottery. Excellent project and the tools aren’t sharp so they work great. Plus the room smells great for a week.

      • Hahahaha. Maybe! I like the soap dispensers in my room, so I ended up giving them to the fourth grade teacher. He gives prizes away at his  Hygiene Bingo day for the fourth grade boys at the end of the year…many of them really do need a “message” by then! 

        • Now I am getting a chuckle from “Hygiene Bingo” – Love the creative teachers out there!

    • H. Taylor

      You can do a beginning project called “wool felting”. Martha Stewart has a “how to” on wool felting on a bar of soap on her website, and you can find a youtube video on it. Basically, you wrap the soap with colorful wool roving, rub it with warm water, and the wool tightens all around the soap (like when your favorite sweater shrinks in hot water.) You could incorporate the history of wool and show pictures of a yurt home. :-) The roving is called; “merino wool roving” and you can order it online. I get mine at

  • Cathy

    Yesterday I received a little bag of cardboard flowers…..not enough for a class project and anyway, wasn’t sure what I would do with them…perhaps use them on a bulletin board or something. There was a note attached with a name so I knew who the donor was. Then the first grader stopped me in the hall yesterday, excited to ask “Mrs. Robey, did you get my donation?” Of course I responded, “Yes I did and thank you very much!) But oh my gosh……there are so many of those “mismatched” donations down in the basement.

    I know that a lot of people are very sincere in giving their donations but I do believe that they really lack understanding of what we really teach. I do like the idea of the “wish list” and plan on adding that to my “page” on our school blog, prior to Meet the Teacher night next week.

    • katgirldu

      Mismatched donations = Cornell Boxes!  Once a year, each kid makes a Cornell box in a shoe box ( I hot glue cardboard shelves to order) and there goes a TON of junk!

  • Worst donation ever…actual turkey wings!  The whole wing, bones, feathers and all, came from my janitor who was a proud hunter.  I put them on display in the back of my display case because if there is one person you don’t want to upset, it is the school janitor!

    Goofiest donation.. I had a student who would bring me one cardboard roll (leftover from toilet paper) every morning for two years.

    • I agree with making nice with your janitor!   I was laughing out loud about the toliet paper! There are some cool art projects out there on Pinterest for TP :) Maybe your student just knew ;)

    • That student was so sweet. You will never forget it, will you!? 

  • Ms. Novak

    Okay – I posted mine on yourfacebook page, because I felt it needed a picture. When I was cleaning out my room last year I found a box of very phallic looking tubes. (I now know, thanks to a nurse friend, that syringes come in them when not packaged the other way.) All I could see was a box of well – penises. I am not one of those people that see phallic symbols everywhere – but this time it was all I could see. At the time – I wasn’t sure how to create a project with them that would keep the boys from giggling and snickering.

    • Amanda,

      That is so hilarious! I am laughing out loud. I did not see the picture on the Facebook page! Is it there? Junk sculptures, anyone?
      Thanks for sharing your funny story!

      • Novak

        HA!  Yeah, the picture is on your Art of Education Facebook page.  I think it is just posted and not connected to anything in particular.  I start with kids after Labor Day – I can’t wait!

  • Bachman Rachel

    This week, I received a single floppy disk. Awesome! Yesterday, I got a bag full of egg cartons (great), plastic tubs (okay), and three tiny diapers. Diapers!!!! By the way, I have no children. Diapers. Oh, and a box of sawdust. Ha!

    • I love it! :) Diapers, that is an interesting one! We really do becoming the dumping ground for all things. :)

      I recieved old gallons of paint from a buisness.  Come to find out after we hauled the truck load into my room that much of it is oil based or not even paint at all.  You can’t just throw paint in the trash.  Paint is a process to dispose of properly- not cool!

    • mrscmjones

      Sawdust mixed with glue can be modeled into sculpture

    • Marni Oberpriller

       Rachel, I have stored my egg cartons (aka student paint palettes) stacked neatly by size and form (some are pointy, or hold 18 eggs), atop my upper cabinets. In walks a new Fire Chief July 2012.  From now on, ALL egg cartons are to be stored “IN containers!” Humph.

  • A couple of years ago I went through all the “stuff” people had gifted me with and took everything that  I  didn’t want  and put it in boxes in the back of my room. I sent out an e-mail to all of our faculty listing all the goodies and the fact that they were free to whom ever wanted them. I got rid of 85% by the following week! I once had someone donate all the yarn a relative couldn’t use any more., bag after bag after bag! I’m still using it!

    • It sounds like the faculty and students like “junk” just as much as we do.  Kind of like food in the teacher’s lounge: It never stays around for long! 

  • Sarah

    My strategy for the dumping ground syndrome is to pass it on to the kids. I have a drawer or a box full of random stuff I’ve been given, and every semester my Art 1 students have a sculpture project (or two) where they’re told to “make something.” I don’t have access to a kiln (or even a sink, long story), so my sculpture options are papier mache or mixed media. Lots of really random stuff gets used that way. (“Sure, I’ll take that ballerina pink spray paint…someone will use it eventually.)

    There’s a limit though. I have a little space for this kind of stuff – not a ton, but enough – and it actually works out to a really good project, so it’s worth it. But the seven dozen spiral notebooks with blank covers and nasty-feeling newsprint-quality ruled paper…out the door.

    • I hate nasty feeling paper. :) 

      • Valerie Eninsche

        I like having newsprint, because I use it as a cover sheet for chalk or pastel drawings. :)

  • Leslie

    I Have a wish list that I sent out 3 times a year that requests the usual kinds of things ( paper plates, napkins, yogurt containers, etc) but I also accept anything in quantity. I am fortunate to have a huge storeroom and can keep things until I figure ut what to do with them. I graciously accepted a case of chopstick two years ago and although it took me awhile to figure out what to do with them, i now find them indespensible as handles for puppets, thaumatropes, stirring paint, handles for scrolls etc. you just never know.

    I also like receiving those odd little things from the junk drawers we all have as I do two annual projects; middle school gets to make “robots” and third grade makes “critters.” We use odd bits of styrofoam and cardboard from packing boxes, and shoeboxes of various sizes for the robot bodies, and all kinds of stuff for the details. I even keep a techno box where I put old computer parts, keyboards, cell phones with the batteries removed etc. and these get used for eyes, teeth, the controls etc. For the third graders, they start out with a toilet paper tube for the body, and then add details for their imaginary critter with all the stuff I receive all year long. These are among the most popular projects of the year!

    • You have some really good systems for using up those donations, Leslie, I appreciate you sharing them with us. I bet the projects really are popular and a great way to advocate for your art program.

  • Dswansbrough

    Last year, when we studied countries around the world, I purchased cheap plastic masks online and then put out all of the “odds & ends” donations. We talked about Brazil’s Carnaval celebration and costumes and then I let the students design their own masks. This was a favorite project and I was surprised at how quickly they put a dent in the donations pile!

  • Susie Belzer

    Love reading the comments!  Last year was my first year at my school and the former teacher had a bunch of parents who brought recyclables in on a regular basis.  Each of them asked if I wanted them to continue, so of course I said yes.  Little did I know the sheer amount of recyclables these families were able to bring in.  It was overwhelming for a while, but I really didn’t want to throw any of it away because it was all good materials (yogurt cups, plastic cups, TP rolls, caps, etc) so we ended up doing a huge recycled art unit.  I even researched landfills and shared with the students some videos on the difference between up-cycling and down-cycling.  I’m sure I will get a ton more this year (as most families save over summer) but I will try the wish list idea to get some variety in my donations!  :)

  • Dcerretani

    I believe in the “wish list” or a bulltein asking for one specific thing!  I do have regulars who donate very usable recycled containers, wall paper/fabric books, bottles, TP/PT tubes so I never have to ask for more of these things.  I did have a mother once who indiscriminately cleaned out her barn and chicken coop and sent in boxes of odds and ends sprinkled with hay and manure.  One thing I don’t need is MANURE!!!

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